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New server technologies gain traction in the channel

Converged data center platforms and micro servers each have their uses, VARs say.

Nontraditional servers -- ranging from converged data center platforms to so-called micro servers -- are catching on among resellers and IT service providers.

Cisco Systems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. inaugurated the converged infrastructure space in 2009, with Cisco debuting its Unified Computing System and HP responding with BladeSystem Matrix.

Established players as well as start-ups players, meanwhile, launched dense, low-power micro servers. SeaMicro Inc. rolled out its small form-factor SM10000 server last year. In another 2010 debut, Dell Corp. announced Viking as part of its custom light-weight server line. Similar products will likely follow. The System Server Infrastructure Forum, a server industry group, last month released a blueprint for creating micro servers, with Intel among the electronics firms behind the Micro Module Server Specification.

Channel partners are already engaged with the converged infrastructure products. These companies deploy systems for customers and, in some cases, use them internally. Channel involvement with micro servers appears more limited at this point, although some resellers have begun working with the technology.

Converged platforms converge

Iron Bow Technologies is spending a lot of time with the unified fabrics of Cisco and HP, said Jim Smid, data center practice director at the Chantilly, Va., reseller. Customers show considerable interest in Cisco’s UCS product line, he said. And HP’s offering, he added, comes up in any conversation around blade systems, as the company “still owns the majority of the market.”

That interest surfaces in both government and commercial accounts, Smid explained. In the public sector, the arrival of the converged platforms tracks with the federal government’s desire to shrink its data center real estate. Commercial accounts, on the other hand, pursue reduced power consumption.

“Federal ... seems to be a lot more focused on space requirements,” Smid said. “In the commercial side, we tend to see TCO [analysis] around power consumption.”

CDW- also encounters customers moving to consolidated data center platforms. One client, Atlanta-based law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, opted for UCS when it decided to build a new data center. The firm hired CDW to install the new center in a colocation facility.

David Roush, senior network engineer at McKenna Long & Aldridge, said the law firm “wanted something that was going to provide us with a better growth opportunity but still keep us in a smaller data center footprint.”

Mark Haaksma, a CDW field engineer, worked on the McKenna project and about 10 other UCS installations. He said CDW met with McKenna’s IT staff and provided a start-to-finish walk through of UCS configuration. At the same time, CDW conducted training on the various UCS components. Haaksma said CDW has used the same process with other accounts. It generally takes three to four days.

Nontraditional servers also play an in-house role, powering service providers’ cloud offerings. NaviSite Inc., a hosting and managed cloud services provider, employs Cisco UCS in its cloud platform nodes, the latest of which opened earlier this month in San Jose, Calif.

All told, NaviSite has conducted about a dozen UCS deployments over the past year, said Allen Allison, NaviSite’s chief security officer. He said the consolidated platform’s promise of greater efficiency “seems to be coming true for the most part.”

NaviSite monitors UCS power consumption to the power distribution unit (PDU) level. Allison said preliminary numbers indicate that consumption per PDU is lower with UCS compared with what the company expects from traditional servers. Next, he said, NaviSite plans to rollout monitoring as close to the outlet as possible to gain additional insight into power usage.

Meet the micro servers

Micro servers, being a bit newer, haven’t generated as much IT channel impact to date. SeaMicro, with its Atom-based micro servers, however, has a couple of reseller partners. Blue Chip Tek Inc., a Sunnyvale, Calif., IT infrastructure reseller, has worked with the technology for six months. Jason Geis, principal at Blue Chip Tek, said the server technology resonates with the company’s Web 2.0 client base. The reseller placed evaluation units at customer locations and made some sales as well.

Geis said Web 2.0 companies -- from gaming to social media -- focus on energy consumption and can see the return on investment in new servers. “We hear about what is going on from a data center standpoint and power and cooling,” he said. “All the companies talk about it.”

SeaMicro’s SM10000 server, according to the company, is designed to replace 40 1 RU dual-socket quad-core severs. As for channel initiatives, SeaMicro partners with Net One Systems, an integrator based in Japan, as well as Blue Chip Tek. SeaMicro aims to expand the channel.

“SeaMicro is actively recruiting channel partners, both domestically and

internationally,” said Peter Amrikhan, the company’s vice president of sales. “We believe that the channel will play a crucial role in fueling our growth.”

Iron Bow’s Smid said micro servers’ high-density computing suit Web 2.0 deployments. He cited large Web farms in which masses of servers perform the same function. In those environments, micro servers can commoditize resources and reduce the physical and power consumption footprints.

“We don’t run into those types of applications as often,” Smid said, noting that Iron Bow hasn’t seen as much activity with micro servers as it has with the consolidation platforms.

Blue Chip Tek, however, is betting on the Web 2.0 vertical -- and its demand for cutting-edge technology. “The customers we cater to ... are pushing the envelope on technology and what technology can do,” Geis said.

John Moore is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based freelance writer, reachable at

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